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The Bible - a discussion

Discussion in 'Tilted Philosophy, Politics, and Economics' started by Tully Mars, Nov 11, 2013.

  1. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Very Tilted

    Location:
    Yucatan, Mexico
    Ask and ye shall receive...




    And debate...
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 11, 2013
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  2. Levite

    Levite Levitical Yet Funky

    Location:
    The Windy City
    OK, well, I can't say I didn't walk into that.

    First of all, I think it might help to clarify that Judaism does not conceive of text in quite the same way that non-Jewish religions do. First of all, we believe that Torah contains literally infinite potentiality for meanings, across numerous levels. In other words, the Torah is designed to be interpreted, and that design not only incorporates potential for meaning after meaning to be derived from the text, but that every sentence, every word, perhaps even every letter can mean more than one thing at once.

    Additionally, for us, the Written Torah (the Pentateuch) and the rest of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible) represent only half of a whole. The other half is the Oral Torah, which is not a set of specific teachings-- though teachings comprising parts of the Oral Torah have been written down in the form of the Talmud, the Midrash, and other Rabbinic works-- but is an interpretive tradition, including both methodologies for interpretation and for creating further interpretive structures and also interpretive jurisdictional authority. Furthermore, Oral Torah is never complete, but grows and evolves with every generation.

    In other words, not only is the Jewish tradition not based in textual literalism, it presumes that text requires interpretation and reinterpretation, and that the applied meaning of a text not only may not be the plain, surface meaning of the text, but may be a derived meaning not previously or readily apparent to the untrained eye. It also assumes that the way in which we construct Jewish society and Jewish law will evolve over time.

    We are taught that in every generation, the judges who are trained in interpreting Torah have the authority to interpret Torah as they see the need to do so, within the framework of methodologies set down by the Rabbis of the Talmud, which they themselves refined out of teachings they had received from their predecessors, and so on. And what is more, we believe that this is what God wants from us. The interpretive jurisdiction we have over the Torah came to us along with the Torah.

    This is told best in a story from the Talmud (from tractate Bava Metzia, page 59a, for those keeping track):

    [Just for context: the Rabbis were engaged in a halachic [Jewish legal] debate about the kashrut [kosher status] of a certain clay oven, called the Tanur shel Achnai, or Oven of Achnai. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hirkanus was the President of the Sanhedrin [High Court] at that time, and in this matter, every single other Rabbi on the Sanhedrin disagreed with him, and they were represented by Rabbi Yehoshua.)

    It is taught: At that time, Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable halachic argument, but they [the rest of the Sanhedrin] did not accept them. Finally, he said to them: “If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob tree prove it!” Whereupon the carob tree jumped a hundred amot out [about 22 feet] of the spot in which it was planted; others say it jumped four hundred amot [about 90 feet].​

    But they retorted, “We do not take halachic proofs from carob trees.”​

    Again he said to them: “If the halachah agrees with me, let this brook prove it!” Whereupon the water in the brook flowed backwards.​

    They retorted, “We do not take halachic proofs from brooks.”​

    Again he said: “If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of this building prove it!” Whereupon the walls bent outward and began to fall.​

    But Rabbi Yehoshua rebuked the walls, saying: “When halachic jurists are engaged in a legal debate, you walls have no right to interfere!” So the walls did not fall down, out of respect for Rabbi Yehoshua, nor did they go back to complete verticality, out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer-- they’re still standing like that, at an incline, even now.​

    [Finally,] he [Rabbi Eliezer] said to them: “If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proven from Heaven!” Whereupon a Heavenly Divine Voice was heard to cry out: “Why are you all disputing Rabbi Eliezer? The halachah always agrees with him!”​

    But Rabbi Yehoshua arose and exclaimed: “Lo bashamayim hee!” (“It is not in heaven,” see Deut. 30:12) What did he mean by this? Rabbi Yirimiyahu explained: “He meant that the Torah had already been given to us at Mount Sinai. We pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice or other miraculous proofs, because God’s Torah already long before had written in it among other things, ‘Follow the majority rule in matters of law.’” (Ex. 23:2)​

    Rabbi Natan encountered Eliyahu ha-Navi [Elijah the Prophet, returned,], and he asked him: “What did the Holy One, Blessed be He, do when all the above incident happened?”​

    Eliyahu replied, “God laughed with joy, and said, ‘My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me!’”​

    Now, obviously this story has certain mythopoeic elements indicating it likely is not to be taken completely literally. But the essential lesson of the story is clear: our jurisdictional authority to interpret Torah comes from the Torah itself, and from God, who gave us the covenant of Torah. Not only do we not impinge upon the right of halachic judges (whom we call rabbis) to interpret Torah, we do not suppose even God has the right to take back what He has given us by so impinging.

    There are, of course, many different opinions in tradition about how best to interpret, and what the precise limits of rabbinic authority to interpret are, and so forth. And certainly today, those differences of opinion are among those at the heart of what divides the different movements in modern Judaism.

    But even Orthodox Judaism, which is extraordinarily cautious, if not sometimes positively hidebound, about radical change in halachah or innovation in interpretation of Torah, nonetheless is not literalistic, and understands that the tradition evolves. The Written Torah, the Tanach-- these are not philosophical and metaphysical endpoints, they are the foundations for something still being built, which in all likelihood is never destined to be completed.

    In any case, you ask on what basis Jews have ethical concerns over these two verses in Leviticus. The answer is that their bases are other teachings of the Tanach. There are two verses in the entire Tanach that appear to prohibit male homosexual acts. On the other hand, there are dozens of verses in Torah alone, and who knows how many more in the books of the Prophets, the wisdom literature, which demand of us that we aid the oppressed and vulnerable, and treat others with dignity, valuing and respecting them.

    Theology evolves even within the corpus of the Tanach. It evolves after the Biblical period, and continues to evolve, as do ethics. Not only do we find new meanings and new directions of thought through re-examining and re-interpreting the text, but we are aided by learning what others who try to live justly and seek to touch the numinous write and say, and bringing elements of their wisdom to bear, in appropriate ways, on our tradition.

    Another point: in our tradition, we do not define sin as an innate status (which is one reason we don't have a doctrine of Original Sin, and thus have no need for the "salvation" which Christianity teaches), but as an action. A "sinner" is not someone who is inherently sinful in some way, but someone who has transgressed a commandment and not yet done teshuvah (the process of formal repentance, wherein one admits to having transgressed, apologizes to any offended parties, makes any reparations needed, accepts any consequences of the transgression, and completes the ritual liturgy of atonement on Yom Kippur). Before they commit the transgression, they are not a sinner. After doing teshuvah, they are not a sinner. Only after transgressing and before doing teshuvah are they a sinner, purely by virtue of having done a transgressive act. Those who are acting under compulsion are not responsible for their sins: this may include those forced by another to do something prohibited, or forced by circumstances beyond their control to do something prohibited.

    Gay people don't choose to be gay. They're born that way. Therefore, they are under compulsion. It is their nature to be gay.

    Even Orthodoxy admits this; but their solution is to recommend gay people be celibate, which I-- like most non-Orthodox Jews, and some progressive innovators on the left wing of Orthodoxy-- find an unacceptable solution. We are taught that God wishes us to be happy, insofar as happiness can be attained in this world, and wishes us to have love and companionship-- and yes, sexual gratification-- in our lives. It is unreasonable to propose that ten percent or so of the Jewish People be condemned to lives of solitary misery or perpetual sinfulness because of how they were created. And it is unreasonable to suppose that God, whom we know as a just, merciful, and compassionate God, would deliberately create ten percent-ish of the human race to be in such an inescapable moral trap.

    Therefore, those verses must mean something else. Some have proposed that their context, within a series of commandments concerning idolatry, indicates that what is meant is not all homosexual sex, but homosexual acts done as part of idolatrous ritual (as was known to occur in the Ancient Near East). Others, noting the strange phraseology of the two verses (they use a phrasing for the sexual acts never found anywhere else in the Tanach) opine that they may have meant sex as a means of acquisition (also known to occur in the Ancient Near East), or rape. Still others have construed the meaning of the phrasing as indicating that what is being prohibited is voluntary bisexuality. And there are other ideas, as well. The point is that, seeing a moral need to reinterpret those verses, we have ample precedent and basis in our tradition to take action and reinterpret them.

    All this, of course, is not even getting into the whole issue of Torah authorship, and to what degree, if at all, Jews today believe in literal divine authorship of the Torah (traditionally, only the Written Torah-- the Five Books of Moses-- was considered authored by God, and some said not even all of it).

    But I think you get the picture, that the way we Jews deal with sacred text, and re/interpreting it reflects a vastly different conception and theological worldview than the more commonly known Christian conception and view.
     
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  3. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    Location:
    Baltimore/DC
    wow...done in one.
    I've got nothin'


    /golf clap
     
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  4. Tully Mars

    Tully Mars Very Tilted

    Location:
    Yucatan, Mexico
    Anyone have a perspective from another religion?
     
  5. Charlatan

    Charlatan sous les pavés, la plage

    Location:
    Temasek
    This is why the Jewish faith is so cool.
     
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  6. redux

    redux Very Tilted Donor

    Location:
    Foggy Bottom
    I'm having flashbacks of all those years of Hebrew school but Levite, you made it much more interesting!

    I went from growing up Orthodox to now practicing Reform but my daughter is interested in returning to the family's more religious roots (going against the tide - see below), oddly enough spurred in part by her gentile boyfriend who is equally interested.

    And then I saw this the other day from the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project:
    And just last week, my daughter sent me a video of "the other Kabbalah-Loving Musician" (no, not Madonna)


     
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  7. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    Location:
    Toronto
    I like chatting with a Jewish friend of mine about Judaism and how I fit within its context as a non-Jew. It's both fascinating and comforting at the same time.

    Actually, most of my knowledge of Judaism in general probably comes from him (though I really should learn more).

    We've also delved several times into the many parallels between Judaism and Buddhism.
     
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  8. mixedmedia

    mixedmedia ...

    Location:
    Florida
    I read your whole post and I enjoyed it so much. But this is the one I went back to read a few more times. Brings a whole new level to the concept of liberty.
     
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  9. Levite

    Levite Levitical Yet Funky

    Location:
    The Windy City
    You might enjoy some of the books written by the late Rabbi Alan Lew. He was what we like to call a JuBu, a Jew who practices some form of Buddhism. Obviously, unlike some more theologically problematic figures, like Ram Dass, Lew was more careful to practice only the purest philosophical core of Buddhism, and to use its meditative techniques, while not syncretizing any of the cultural religious Buddhism that tends to involve things like venerating the Buddha and various bodhisattvas, and keeping statues of them and so forth; he did a fine job balancing Buddhist influence with Jewish practice. He apparently had a congregation in Northern California that he ran more or less like a sangha, except Jewish. Personally, I find his work just a bit too Buddhist for me, but I respect what he was doing, and there are quite a number of Jews who seem to respond to it deeply, and for whom it holds tremendous significance.
     
  10. Baraka_Guru

    Baraka_Guru Möderätor Staff Member

    Location:
    Toronto
    I could see how people could have problems with the atheistic/non-religous aspects of the core Buddhist teachings, but where there is common ground is in much of the moral philosophy and some of the fundamental practices.

    The Buddhism you described (re: Ram Dass) sounds like one of the Mahayana schools, which contains texts in addition to the Pali Canon (Sutras, etc.) and various rituals and trappings. Theravada Buddhism, on the other hand, focuses on the core teachings of the Buddha and eschews most of the extras. I've just recently started delving into Therevada through the work of Jack Kornfield, who helped popularize a Theravada movement in America. It focuses mostly on meditation and the core teachings. Most of my knowledge of Buddhism is Mahayana (Tibetan, with some Zen), but I've found that Theravada is probably more practical for me, which is why I want to study it more. It will also likely lead to more awesome discussions with my Jewish friend.

    I guess what this means is that it would possibly be easier to mesh Theravada with Judaism in terms of making the two compatible, especially if you view the Theravada aspect as a means to meditate and get a firmer grasp on a philosophy of mind. Consider that Theravada especially isn't about worshipping Buddha as a god (more so showing gratitude for his teaching) but rather about understanding the nature of reality and how the mind interacts with it. It's not so much into bodhisattvas either, which is quite prominent in Tibetan Buddhism. As such, it is a school of Buddhism that is probably the most distinguishable as a practical philosophy rather than a religion.
     
    Last edited: Nov 12, 2013
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  11. Charlatan

    Charlatan sous les pavés, la plage

    Location:
    Temasek
    Wasn't there talk that the lost tribe of Israel ended up in India?
     
  12. rogue49

    rogue49 Tech Kung Fu Artist Staff Member

    Location:
    Baltimore/DC
    Yes...or at least some claim them to be.
    There are some that are skeptical about it.
    It's still being debated...I don't know what the status is currently.

    But they are being allowed to migrate to Israel.
     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2013
  13. Levite

    Levite Levitical Yet Funky

    Location:
    The Windy City
    There were two major communities of Jews in India: one arrived there between 900 and 400 years ago, from the Middle East and from Spain. The other seems to have been there much longer, and their claim was that they were descendants of the Tribe of Menashe (Manases), one of the "lost" 10 tribes. Whether they are or not is unknown, but they have been given permission to come to Israel, and they are receiving instruction into Talmudic and other Rabbinic texts apparently unknown to their community.
     
  14. Aceventura

    Aceventura Slightly Tilted

    Location:
    North Carolina
    What does it mean to be gay? I am not claiming to be an expert on Torah/the first 5 books of the Bible or the New Testament in the bible but my understanding is that there are references to behaviors not a person's nature to be gay. There are also references to heterosexual behaviors.

    Sexuality behaviors are not seen in young children - when it is said "born that way" what are we saying? My sexual preferences have been learned and have actually evolved over time - are there people with hard (pardon the pun) coded sexual preferences? In some respects it seems to me, in the context of sex, blindfolded - a stimulated penis will respond the same way regardless of the source. So what are the differences between sexual preferences and sexuality from a religious point of view? The Judea-christian tradition in my view has always tried to manage sexual preferences.

    I understand views on sexual preference and sexuality based on religion as a basis of faith. I would expect non-religious views to be based on something other than faith - is it? My secular view is indifference and I support public policy that reflects my indifference. I don't care what consenting adult men and women do in privacy and public policy should be neutral in this regard. And I don't care how people were born, it is not important. However, secular thinkers put emphasis on how people were born, as if gayness is a condition. I don't get it. Is it a condition? Is there a test? I would argue it should not matter. But I am not trying to minimize those who hold religious views based on faith.
     
  15. Levite

    Levite Levitical Yet Funky

    Location:
    The Windy City
    That's my point. The Torah generally speaks of specific actions, not entire spectra of innate behaviors. To be gay is different. So say the authors from the gay community I have read-- unanimously-- and so say most of the current psychological works I've looked at or had taught to me.

    The normative understanding in science today seems to be that gayness is not something chosen. Granted, if I were being completely technical, I would not say "born gay," but that sexual orientation is apparently considered the result of a combination of factors, including innate biology and social factors. Nonetheless, the essential point-- that it is not merely a matter of choice-- remains the same.

    This makes an immense difference in how we are to interpret Torah and construct Jewish Law, because, as Rabbi Moshe Maimonides instructs, we should not expect Torah to teach us something contrary to how we understand the world actually functions. If our interpretations say one thing, and the best knowledge of how the world functions that is provided by science says another, we must be interpreting Torah incorrectly.

    First of all, that is not so. Children don't have sexual relations per se, but they do exhibit sexually-influenced behaviors, ranging from the gravitation to certain gender roles to masturbation or genital play to pre-sexual courting behaviors-- crushes, handholding, even "negative" games like "cooties." All of these are sexually-influenced behaviors.

    When you first became aware of your sexuality, in your earliest feelings of attraction to others-- without even knowing it was attraction, or without even knowing why you felt that way-- were you uniformly interested in both boys and girls? Or did you simply automatically feel interested in one or the other? If you were uniformly interested in both, and only developed a preference for one or the other, or for occasional bisexuality, later on, then you are extremely rare. Most people naturally tend to incline one way or the other-- even the majority of bisexuals tend to incline a bit one way or the other.

    Obviously, for everyone, some interplay of biological and social factors is at work in the construction of sexual identity, and it is not so simple as a monolithic sexual preference encoded in genetics. But what we are is formed-- deeply formed-- early on. Some say even perhaps in utero; others say perhaps in infancy or early childhood; but in any case, it is likely far before anything resembling the onset of sexual maturity.

    Whether this is "hardwired" or not, in the end, the effect is the same: the fundamental nature of our sexuality is not something we choose. It simply is.

    First of all, there is no such thing as "Judaeo-Christian tradition." There is Judaism and there is Christianity. They are separate, not a continuum: they are, in many key ways, theologically incompatible as well as incompatible in practice. Judaism is surely the root religion of Christianity, but the root is by no means identical, or even always comparable, to the leaf that grows on the branch.

    Second of all, sexual preferences don't live in the genitals. They live in the mind. Perhaps given certain stimuli under certain conditions, the body will respond in the ways evolutionary genetics program them to respond, but that doesn't constitute a preference. After all, some women have reported orgasms during rape: does that mean they wanted to be raped, or would like to be raped again? By the same token, some men who have been raped reported they became erect when penetrated: does that mean they wanted to be raped? Does it make them gay?

    This issue isn't about the physical responses of the body when subjected to stimuli, willing or unwilling. This is about who a person is attracted to: not merely to have sexual intercourse with, but to fall in love with, to live in loving companionship with, to perhaps raise a family with.

    I have been fortunate to meet a number of same-sex couples who have been together for multiple decades. They came to find their partners and make lives with them in times when it was profoundly difficult and dangerous for them to do so: who would ever make such a choice?! And these relationships were not simply about stimulated penises or vaginas, they were about people's shared lives, their love for one another, and their desire to make their way in the world together, to share a little bit of the other person's soul.

    I don't know what kind of God would create such people, decide that those people were innately wrong or evil, and condemn them to either perpetual sinfulness or lifelong solitude. But it definitely is not the God I believe in, the God whom we are taught loves His children and wants them to love one another.

    As I mentioned in my first post, Torah is thought to have infinite potential meanings. If that is the case, it also includes potentially wrong or counterproductive meanings, so the question has often been raised, how does one know a right meaning from a wrong meaning. Many times the answer is a practical reference to the teachings of the Rabbis; but it is understood that even the Rabbis could make mistakes, as well as that later interpreters may find ways to interpret not foreseen by the Rabbis-- both for good and for ill. I think the literalistic interpretation of those two verses in Leviticus, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that gay people do not choose to be gay, is a counterproductive, wrong meaning. When God shows His deeper nature to Moses on Sinai (Ex. 34), He names Himself el rachum v'chanun...notzer chesed l'alafim "A compassionate God, full of graciousness...giving forth lovingkindness a thousandfold..." If that is truly God's nature, He would never create people condemned to sin or suffering merely through their own existence.

    Given the choice that either our understanding of God's nature is in error-- an understanding that permeates Tanach and Rabbinic text-- or that two verses out of many thousands, which appear to class homosexual relations as objectionable to precisely the same level of negativity as eating shellfish, might be being misinterpreted, I choose the latter.
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2013
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  16. Aceventura

    Aceventura Slightly Tilted

    Location:
    North Carolina
    My point is that it does not matter and should not matter in public policy. That I understand how it may matter from the point of view of faith, because it is at the core of free will and if morality should surround matter of what is predetermined.

    Secondarily, there is the argument of issues of faith, which I would attribute to religion and where many non-religious people would argue science. I have not seen a legitimate scientific argument for being gay. It is clear that scientifically we can show sex, hair color and other objective factors. Part of the problem with being gay, is separating superficial characteristics to what in essence make a person gay. I do not know what that is, I doubt anyone does at this point. So, regardless I conclude all views on this question are based on faith.



    I argue these are learned.

    I can not separate my cultural views of attraction from what I was born with. Even in the subset of girls, I was not attracted to all girls, in fact the types of girls I was attracted to was small even in the population of girls. To this day, I am not sexually attracted to all women, I would estimate about 5% or less. Can you separate your cultural views of attraction from what you were born with?


    Or did you simply automatically feel interested in one or the other? If you were uniformly interested in both, and only developed a preference for one or the other, or for occasional bisexuality, later on, then you are extremely rare. Most people naturally tend to incline one way or the other-- even the majority of bisexuals tend to incline a bit one way or the other.

    In some communities/circumstances/cultures bi-sexuality is/was accepted and common. To me meaning that humans will adapt to address sexual needs.

    I understand that this is not a topic normally discussed, and therefore not really understood. It is easiest to say that it simply is.


    My wife is Jewish (reform) and we have raised our son (16), Jewish. My family background is Christian. My wife, of 19 years, and I have never had a values conflict. So, when you say there is no such thing as Judaeo-Christian tradition my personal experiences differ. I would not describe our shared values as on a continuum, but more like concentric circles. What my wife and I share is in both circles.
     
  17. Remixer

    Remixer Middle Eastern Doofus

    Location:
    Frankfurt, Germany
    @Levite - I really appreciate your lengthy and thorough response to my question. Your statement made me wonder how Jews would reconcile this and I am happy to have learned through your insight what the philosophical approach within your community is. Many thanks.


    So, if I got the above right, Judaism has a very similar concept as Islam in this regard.

    1. Islam has no concept of sins being able to be committed before being self-aware and able to take responsibility for one's own actions (usually until puberty).

    2. A person cannot a sinner before actually committing the sin.

    3. A person is absolved/forgiven of his/her sins when either A) praying, B) conducting a process similar to teshuvah,or C) completing the pilgrimage (Hajj/Umrah, and thus being "reborn" spiritually). Sincerity of regret towards the sins committed is an obvious requirement.

    4. Acts committed against their will (such as under the threat of harm to them or their loved ones) are not considered/counted as sins.


    It would be quite a stretch to claim the above as a fact when considering the current state of research into homosexuality, and given no biological data exists to support such a claim. Unless you mean the above as your personal opinion on the matter.

    There is a caveat regarding the "born this way" argument: Transsexuals. Islam does accept that a person can be born in the wrong body. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that from our view.

    It is also the reason why a country like Iran happens to actively subsidize all expenses related to performing sex change surgeries and the entire transition to the opposite sex.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2013
  18. Aceventura

    Aceventura Slightly Tilted

    Location:
    North Carolina
    From a religious point of view, not all human relationships are equal. The mother/child relationship is special and unique, the husband/wife relationship is special and unique, the spiritual leader/follower (feel free to use your own terms) is special and unique, the family relationships are special and unique....this seems to be true in every religion that I am aware of. How do religious people justify the argument that those who view, the relationship between a husband/wife as a special and unique relationship, are intolerant of other forms of human relationships? I honestly believe in the eye of God there is a difference. It does not mean there is hate/intolerance/bigotry/etc. for other forms of human relationships, including relationships between same sex couples. Again, I am not discussing civil law - I believe government should be neutral on all consensual adult relationships.